Full disclosure: I enjoy the JAFF stories produced by many authors, altho’ I have two favourite authors. One of them is Regina Jeffers. When I pick up one of her books I know it will be a well-written and well-thought-out story, properly edited, and well-researched. I always look forward to learning at least one, if not several, new points of Regency or British history from each of her books. Not to mention that they are always fun to read.
And so it is with Mr Darcy’s Brides.
Blurbing the book:
I much prefer the sharpest criticism of a single intelligent man to the thoughtless approval of the masses.
ELIZABETH BENNET is determined that she will put a stop to her mother’s plans to marry off the eldest Bennet daughter to Mr. Collins, the Longbourn heir, but a man that Mr. Bennet considers an annoying dimwit. Hence, Elizabeth disguises herself as Jane and repeats her vows to the supercilious rector as if she is her sister, thereby voiding the nuptials and saving Jane from a life of drudgery. Yet, even the “best laid plans” can often go awry.
FITZWILLIAM DARCY is desperate to find a woman who will assist him in leading his sister back to Society after Georgiana’s failed elopement with Darcy’s old enemy George Wickham. He is so desperate that he agrees to Lady Catherine De Bourgh’s suggestion that Darcy marry her ladyship’s “sickly” daughter Anne. Unfortunately, as he waits for his bride to join him at the altar, he realizes he has made a terrible error in judgement, but there is no means to right the wrong without ruining his cousin’s reputation. Yet, even as he weighs his options, the touch of “Anne’s” hand upon his sends an unusual “zing” of awareness shooting up Darcy’s arm. It is only when he realizes the “zing” has arrived at the hand of a stranger, who has disrupted his nuptials, that he breathes both a sigh of relief and a groan of frustration, for the question remains: Is Darcy’s marriage to the woman legal?
What if Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet met under different circumstances than those we know from Jane Austen’s classic tale: Circumstances that did not include the voices of vanity and pride and prejudice and doubt that we find in the original story? Their road to happily ever after may not, even then, be an easy one, but with the expectations of others removed from their relationship, can they learn to trust each other long enough to carve out a path to true happiness?
Regina was good enough to write up a guest post on a most fascinating topic, Criminal Conversation, for Every Savage Can Dance readers:
Several years back, I did a series for my blog, Every Woman Dreams, entitled “Eccentrics of the Regency.” One of the pieces I wrote was on Edward Hughes Ball Hughes. In it, I wrote: “Hughes’ older sister Catherine Ball was a socialite, journalist, and novelist who eventually styled herself the “Baroness de Calabrella” after acquiring property in Italy. She married an older man, Rev. Francis Lee, at the age of 16 in 1804, without her mother’s permission, and was separated from him in 1810 on charges of adultery; her lover, Captain George de Blaquiere, was successfully sued by Reverend Lee for criminal conversation.” When I read this, I wondered whether “criminal conversation” was anything like “alienation of affection.” So, I was determined to find out.
Criminal conversation is commonly known as crim. con. It is a tort arising from adultery. For those of you who do not understand “legal speak,” tort law involves a situation where a person’s actions unfairly causes another to suffer harm or loss. The case is not based around an “illegal” action, but rather one of not thinking of the other person and causing some sort of harm. The law allows the harmed individual to recover his loss, generally by awarding monetary compensation. To prevail (win) in a tort law case the plaintiff (person suing) must show the actions or lack of action was the most likely cause of the harm.
Criminal Conversation is similar to breach of promise, a former tort involving a broken engagement against the betrothed, or alienation of affections, a tort action brought by a deserted spouse against a third party.
In 18th– and 19th-century England, criminal conversation cases were common. It was not unheard of for the plaintiff to be awarded sums as high as £20,000. These cases were seen at the Court of King’s Bench in Westminster Hall. Not only did the plaintiff make money on the proceedings, but so did publishers such as Edmund Curll, whose name became synonymous, through the attacks on him by Alexander Pope, with unscrupulous publication and publicity.
Although neither the plaintiff, the defendant, nor the wife accused of the adultery were permitted to take the stand, evidence of the adulterous behavior was presented by servants or observers. Awards of damages were based upon compensation for the husband’s loss of property rights in his wife, the wife being regarded as his chattel. Historically a wife could not sue her husband for adultery, as he could not be her chattel if she was already his. The criminal conversation tort was abolished in England in 1857, and the Republic of Ireland in 1976. It still exists in parts of the United States, although the application has changed. At least 29 states have abolished the tort by statute and another 4 have abolished it by common law.
A number of very sensational cases were heard in the second half of the 18th century, including Grosvenor v. Cumberland in 1769, where Lord Grosvenor sued the King’s brother, the Duke of Cumberland, for crim con with his wife, being awarded damages of £10,000; and Worsley v. Bisset in 1782, where Sir Richard Worsley lost his case against George Bisset, after it had been found that Sir Richard had colluded in his own dishonour by showing his friend his wife Seymour Dorothy Fleming naked in a bath house. In 1796, the Earl of Westmeath was awarded £10,000 against his wife’s lover, Augustus Bradshaw.
The tort has seen particular use in North Carolina (my current home state). Criminal Conversation is one of the “Heart-Balm” Laws, which include breach of promise, wrongful seduction, and alienation of affection.” ‘Criminal conversation,’ in turn, was a civil cause of action that dated back at least to the seventeenth century in England. The name is oddly inappropriate, since there was nothing criminal about the claim, and it certainly was not about conversation. Rather, “Crim. Con.” allowed a man to bring suit against another man who had sex with his wife. It was a remedy for loss of the wife’s “consortium” (that is, of the companionship and sex she had provided before being seduced by another). Proof of a valid marriage and extramarital sex were all that was required for the husband to make out a successful claim against the interloper.” [Find Law citation] Our most famous Crim Con case in North Carolina in many years was when the late Elizabeth Edwards sued her husband, John Edwards’s, former Presidential candidate, “mistress,” Rielle Hunter.
Enjoy this excerpt from Chapter 5 of MR. DARCY’S BRIDEs in which Elizabeth first learns of Lady Catherine’s idea of having Anne sue Elizabeth for drawing off Darcy’s attentions.
“I am pleased to find you from your bed,” he said politely while eyeing her with interest.
Elizabeth did not address his attempt at consideration. Instead, she asked, “Could you explain to me, sir, how you thought it acceptable to remove my person from your home to your yacht without my permission?” She watched as a muscle along his jaw line twitched, but otherwise, his expression of indifference remained in place.
“It was necessary for you to depart Darcy House, and as you were in no condition to make that decision, I made it for you. As part of my wedding plans, I was set to sail on the day of our departure; therefore, I took advantage of the ship’s preparedness.”
“And why was it necessary for me to leave Darcy House? Could you not have sailed alone? I would have been up and moving about in a day or two, and then I could be gone from your society. No one would have known the difference.”
Other than a slight lift of his eyebrow, he displayed no reaction to her tight-lipped accusations. “My aunt learned of your presence under my roof. She planned to send a magistrate to my home to arrest you. I thought it best if we were removed from England until this matter can be settled.”
“Arrest me?” Elizabeth demanded. “Upon what charges? Certainly what I did was unconventional, but it was not a crime. It was a mistake. I have no desire to remain with you, and you, sir, should be glad to observe my exit. I have caused you nothing but grief and inconvenience. Needless to say, Miss De Bourgh would still accept a man of your consequence. Marry your cousin. Lady Catherine will be mollified, and I will return to my life in the country. All will be forgiven.”
“If you think my aunt will forgive or forget your perceived insult, you are sadly mistaken. Lady Catherine will make your life and the lives of your loved ones miserable. Only with my protection will you remain safe,” he argued.
Elizabeth swallowed hard against the trepidation filling her chest. “I shall…I shall assume my chances, sir. Surely a woman of Lady Catherine’s stature will extend her forgiveness once I explain the situation.” She lifted her chin in defiance.
“More likely she will force Anne to sue you for criminal conversation. I know my aunt, she will not be happy until she leaves you and your family in penury. Not only did you forestall her aspirations of having Anne at Pemberley, but you treated her cleric as if he were insignificant. She sees Mr. Collins’s character as a reflection of her condescension.”
Elizabeth fought the anxiety rising in her stomach. “Nevertheless, I insist that you set me down in the next port and provide me enough coins to claim passage home. I will have Mr. Bennet reimburse you as quickly as I make my way to Hertfordshire.”
“That might be difficult,” he said with a wry twist of his lips, “for you to make your way to Mr. Bennet’s estate in what you are wearing.”
Despite her best efforts, despair pooled in her eyes. “So you mean to keep me a prisoner by refusing me proper dress?” she accused. “I demand the return of the dress I wore for the wedding!”
He shrugged in indifference. “On the morning of our departure, Mrs. Guthrie and a maid dressed in your gown made a great show of leaving Darcy House. I am certain my neighbors will have taken notice of your exodus. My servants have been instructed that if anyone asks after me to tell them that I was so upset after the wedding that I departed for my estate. The servants will also inform those who wish to be apprised of my comings and goings that the poor soul I saw into my house was a distant relation who had been injured at the wedding, and that I instructed my staff to tend the young lady in my absence. When the magistrate calls upon Darcy House he will learn of your leave-taking from more than Mrs. Guthrie, who is to explain that you fell into the street before Lord Haverton’s coach and was treated by Doctor Nott. Both my housekeeper and the good physician will confirm the story of your departure. They will tell the official that you asked to be returned to your home in Bath, and before I left Town upon personal business, I made the necessary arrangements.”
“No one will believe such a convoluted tale,” she argued.
“On the contrary, my dear. The ton is quite gullible. They will believe any tale that smacks of gossip, and they will add their own tidbits to it to make it more outrageous.”
“Then what am I to wear?” she insisted, although she wished her voice had not cracked upon the word “wear.” She suddenly felt like Mr. Darcy’s mistress, for she was dressed for the role.
His expression softened, as if he could read her thoughts. “We had little time to prepare, but Hannah, the maid you met earlier, has altered several of my sister’s gowns. Miss Darcy has sprouted up in the last year, but some of her former gowns will do nicely until we can have something specifically designed for you. Mrs. Guthrie suggests those items ordered as part of Anne’s trousseau, but I rejected the idea, for my Aunt Catherine could then label you a thief. It is best to do over some of my sister’s gowns, rather than to provide her ladyship with a reason to see you behind bars.”
Elizabeth wished to acknowledge his sensible actions, but it was her life in which he dabbled, and all of his decisions were simply too personal. She gritted out the words, “As I am at your disposal, how are we to proceed?”
“If you are agreeable, I thought we might have supper. I tire of eating alone.”
Got you hooked, right? It only gets more complicated, and exciting, from here!
And now for my review:
In this variation we see Elizabeth and Jane hatching a desperate hare-brained scheme to foil Mr. Collins’, and Mrs. Bennet’s, plans for him to marry Jane. Mr. Bennet has recently been injured and is barely clinging to life, so his wife determines that one of their daughters must marry Mr. Collins – Mr. Bennet’s heir – to prevent their eviction from Longbourn on Mr. Bennet’s passing.
Altho’ the Bennets have never met Mr. Collins, Mr. Bennet’s opinion of the man renders the thought of marriage to him absolutely abhorrent to his daughters. Undeterred, Mrs. Bennet offers up their most beautiful and compliant daughter so he will not refuse the match. Jane, being Jane, agrees to comply with her mother’s wishes. When second thoughts plague Jane and she wishes to be released from her acceptance, Elizabeth comes up with her scheme, which she and Jane believe will void the nascent marriage.
A misunderstanding sends Elizabeth to the wrong church, where she speaks her vows and ends up married to another man, who just moments before had realized the mistake he was making in marrying a woman he did not love and even praying for a way out of taking his vows with her. After a madcap chase scene, Elizabeth and Darcy end up married to each other. Maybe. The legality of the marriage must be investigated, and the vindictiveness of Lady Catherine must be dispelled. Because Darcy, you see, has determined that Elizabeth would make him the perfect wife …
So are they or aren’t they? The answer, it seems, is no, yes, and maybe. The story, and our dear couple, must decide whether an accidental, or rather fateful, encounter should determine their futures.
What I liked most:
Seeing how their relationship played out. The tale follows canon to a certain extent in that Darcy is high-handed and haughty, and completely besotted with Elizabeth, while Elizabeth needs some convincing before she can return his affections. The situations, however, are quite different from those in canon. Of course it all works out in the end, but as they say getting there is half the fun. Or in this case, even more than half! I found myself smiling often as I read this story.
And the epilogue. Yes, it’s an idea that’s been done before, but never with the poignancy of this version.
What I liked least:
Well, I guess I have to come up with something. How about this: Regina likes to use the word mayhap, a word that makes the hairs stand up on the back of my neck! Sorry, it was the best I could do.
A fun read that will keep you guessing from beginning to end. I give it
And now a terrific GIVEAWAY!
Regina has two (2) ebook copies of MR. DARCY’S BRIDEs available to those who comment on this post. The giveaway will end at midnight EDST on Saturday, August 19.
Your comments, as always, are most welcome. (Yes, even if you don’t want to enter the giveaway.)